Shalom House recently got approval to renovate 30 Mellen St., the former home of Serenity House, into a residence for those dealing with mental health issues. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Shalom House is set to convert a former sober house on Mellen Street into “sorely needed” housing for men and women with mental illnesses and hopes to have the facility up and running within a year.

The main house at 30 Mellen St. has been empty since last fall when Serenity House closed after 50 years. Shalom House, which purchased the building in October 2018, is now ready to revamp the property.

The plan, approved by the Portland Planning Board Nov. 12, calls for the main house to be renovated into five efficiency apartments and one one-bedroom apartment and 12 bedrooms that will share a kitchen, bathrooms and common space. Four apartments in the carriage house at the rear of the property will be updated with paint, flooring and appliances. In total, 18 residents will be accommodated in the main house and 11 in the carriage house.

“We’ve been looking forward for some time to getting this project up and running and getting people housed here because it is so sorely needed,” said Norman Maze, deputy director at Shalom House.

“We always have demand for our housing,” Maze said. “We can never house everyone who applies and (we) always have a waiting list. This will definitely help.”

Maze said there are 365 people on the waiting list now, a number that has been creeping up over the last two or three years.

The nonprofit, formed in 1972, helps hundreds of people with mental illness each year access housing and mental health services.

The Mellen Street building, Maze said, will serve those who don’t require the 24/7 assistance of Shalom House’s group homes but who are not ready for independence. It will be staffed 12 to 14 hours a day to provide residents with support services.

Maze said it can be difficult for those with mental health concerns to find housing because often they have a checkered rental histories or poor credit.

“We understand the struggles people face in their various stages of recovery and the challenges they have in meeting their needs,” he said.

The building is part of the Deering Street Historic District and the proposal must be reviewed by city’s historic preservation board. Michael Tadama-Wielandt, vice president of Terradyn Consultants, said the exterior of the building will remain unchanged.

“The vast majority of the work is interior,” he said.

The hope, Maze said, is to start the work as soon as possible and complete it within a year. Shalom House, he said, is still waiting for the review by the historic preservation board and has applied for state and federal historic tax credits to help with the project.

York County Shelter Programs had operated the Serenity House substance use disorder treatment center and residence since 1967, but closed it last year due to rising costs.

“While (York County Shelter Programs) had other offers to purchase the property it was very intentional that we sought out another nonprofit,” Bob Dawber, executive director of York County Shelter Programs told the Portland Press Herald last fall. “Supports for people with mental health needs are at a critically low number, especially housing. We are looking forward to Shalom’s continued service to the greater Portland community as they fill this vital need.”

The building was designed by architect John Calvin Stevens to be a private residence for banker George S. Payson in 1898, but has long been a housing facility of various purposes.

Before Serenity House, the Roman Catholic Church operated it as St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Asylum (also known as Holy Innocents Home), a residence for orphans.

Comments are not available on this story.